Harry and William here and we would like to discuss feline vaccines with you. Every year you get that card in the mail, do you ever wonder what vaccines are necessary to continue and which you may be able to discontinue? What diseases your cat is likely to transmit? We would like to turn the floor over to Dr. Blankenship so that you can inform you about the vaccines that we recommend and why they are important.
Regardless of species, vaccinations continue to be a lively source of debate regarding their efficacy, safety, and general importance. With the internet and social media providing information so readily, it can be challenging to decipher fact from opinion, truth from spin. There are several sides to the vaccine debate, including the emotional side (“I don’t want to do anything to harm my cat/dog/son/daughter”), the logical side (“Vaccines help to prevent disease and are reasonably safe and effective”), and the conspiracy side (“Big Pharma has brainwashed physicians into buying into the whole vaccine thing as a way to generate revenue. These diseases don’t actually exist outside a lab in New Mexico. Also the moon landing was fake.”) My intention will be to provide you with some basic facts, to the best of my knowledge, and with this you can come to your own conclusions, as you must do with vaccines for yourself or your family. The vaccines we use for cats are primarily directed against 5 diseases. There are many more vaccinations available on the market, but we’ve chosen these 5 for the reasons I’ll describe below.
Rabies is a virus that can potentially infect any mammal, humans included. This is one of our “core” vaccines, meaning all cats and dogs should be vaccinated regardless of age, lifestyle, or exposure risk. Rabies is extremely rare in pet animals, but vaccination is advised because of the human health risk that rabies presents. It is also required by law (http://www.scphoh.org/environmental/ENV_PDFs/CODES/EHCode1230RabiesControl.pdf), though I’ve not heard of any citations given for cats. In 7 years of practice, I have never diagnosed an active rabies infection in a pet cat.
This is another of our “core” vaccines which all cats should receive regardless of lifestyle. It is a 3-part combination vaccine which covers “Feline Distemper” also known as Panleukopenia, Rhinotracheitis also known as Feline Herpesvirus, and Calicivirus. Panleuk is a virus which causes severe white blood cell compromise and can be fatal in infected cats. There is no known treatment (as with many viruses) but affected cats may recover with supportive care (often hospitalization and intravenous therapies). Fortunately, vaccines have dramatically reduced the incidence of disease, and we now see only an occasional case (1-2 cases per year). Herpes and Calici however continue to be common causes of upper respiratory signs, and we’ll often see 5 cats a day with coughing/sneezing which are related to one of these 2 viruses.
Feline Leukemia Virus
This vaccine should be given to all kittens regardless of lifestyle, and is then considered a “core” vaccine for cats that venture outdoors or are exposed to cats who do. Since Feline Leukemia requires direct cat-to-cat contact to transmit, a strictly indoor cat is at extremely low risk for infection. Given that the consequences of infection can be dire, vaccination is strongly advised for at-risk cats. Cats can often live many great years following infection with Fe-Leuk, but once the infection starts affecting the bone marrow or triggering cancers such as lymphoma, decline can be rapid and devastating. We might see 1-2 cases per month of this disease, usually in the outdoor kitties.
As you can see, vaccines continue to be an important part of keeping pets healthy. Your veterinarian has extensive training in infectious diseases, virology, immunology, and public health, and is the best resource for determining which vaccinations are right for your cat. Feel free to ask us at your next wellness visit!
Harry, William & Jeremy Blankenship, DVM
Stow Kent Animal Hospital